Friday, July 30, 2010

Finding Your Voice

When I was in that frustrated stage of publishing where I was getting rejections from literary agents and deciding whether to self-publish, one realization hit me which really led me to put my book out myself.

I had a voice.

Now, don’t ask me to define exactly what that is because I can’t tell you. But with every rejection I got, all the agents kept telling me that I had great voice and the word “voice” connected with me because I’d heard it before…about 20 years ago.

For those writers who think you must have formal English training, an MFA or the like, to write novels. Let me tell you that I don’t. I’ve written in journals all my life, was pretty much a straight-A student nerd, and did pretty well in English classes throughout school. But one day changed my perspective on my writing.

My English 101 professor, Francis O’Leary (of Irish descent and knew more about African American literature than anyone I’ve met to date—I’ll never forget him) gave the class an assignment. The details are foggy but we had a list of short stories and we were supposed to select two of the stories and do a contrast and comparison—3 pages long. I looked at the list and was completely lost. On the surface, those stories couldn’t have less in common than a chicken and a yo-yo. I mean nothing. We had two days to get the assignment done and I stewed for two days and couldn’t think of a single angle. Talk about frustrated.

Finally, about 2 hours before class on the day I was supposed to turn the assignment in an idea just hit me. I remember selecting The Lottery by Shirley Jackson and The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allen Poe. In each story, the protagonist kind of took a morbid laissez faire attitude about other people’s pain…until the pain became their own. Anyway, so I start writing this 3-page piece of fluff crap, pulling words completely out of my butt, talking about some saying that my grandma said, knowing darn well she’d never said it, and just pulling ideas out of thin air…or so it seemed to me at the time. The words flowed like the River Jordan. I couldn’t stop them until I got to 2 and a half pages (not 3 pages as assigned) and then it ended. When there was nothing left to say, I just couldn’t write anymore. No matter how hard I tried to fill in that last half page.

The whole comparison was entertaining but filled with crap that I’d made up. I didn’t care. It was done and I was going to turn the stupid thing in no matter what the consequences were. For some reason, I was most scared because I didn’t write the entire three pages, just 2 and a half. Hand shaking, I passed the last minute job to Professor O’Leary and I prayed and sweated and hoped that I would just pass the dang assignment. I just didn’t want an “F.”

The next day we were in the middle of an in-class writing assignment and Professor O’Leary calls me to the front of the class. I thought, “Oh hell, he’s gonna let me have it in front of everyone.” My stomach dropped through the floor and I was trembling. Keep in mind that as a nerd, grades were my life…especially A’s. So, I get to the front of the class and he pulls out my paper. At the top of it, an enormous “A” circled in red ink. He hands it to me and whispers, “I’d like to read this in front of the class tomorrow if you don’t mind. This was excellent. You have a great voice! Keep writing!”


What the hell’s “voice”?

I didn’t know, but I agreed to let him read it. A shy writer (to this day), I showed up 20 minutes late just so I wouldn’t have to suffer through him reading my work to the whole class. I walked in just in time for the light applause.

When I thought about my process later on, I remembered the place I was in, where the words just flowed. I heard voices speak to me and I transcribed. I was a vessel for some imaginary person in my head that had something to say, and I wrote the words the way they told me to write them.

To this day, that’s where my words and my characters come from. That place where the characters speak and I listen and then write.

There is where I found my voice, that ingredient in writing that makes your characters come alive. And they refused to let me put their words in one of my journals. They wanted a book and they wanted it published. And wouldn’t let me stop until I did.

I self-published…and the rest as they say is history.

So fellow writers, when you’re wondering why you’re doing what you persist in this writing “thing,” remember those voices and let their stories be heard.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Question From a Follower

Hello Everyone,

I know I've been out of pocket quite a bit lately but I'm busy writing. I've finished a YA novel which I think has some great potential. I also have begun the sequel to The Bum Magnet which is really shaping up to be a lot of fun to write.

Not much has been going on in terms of the book deal. The contract has been signed and I'm waiting...waiting...waiting for the next stage. Based on the contract, I don't think anything will really get in gear until late August, early September. I will share as much about the process as I can.

I have a question from a follower that I'd like to address for all involved. Although I've covered similar material earlier in the blog, I think this is an issue that bears repeating again and again.

Great information. My first book was published in 2001 by a company that's no longer in business. My second will be ready for printing within a couple of weeks. I'm looking at both Lightning and CreateSpace but have also had Balboa Press recommended, an arm of Hay House. Do you have any thoughts on them? Thanks!Judith

I checked out the Balboa Press website and their packages and what I can say is that I would not use them, nor would I encourage anyone who asks for my advice to use their services. The cheapest package is $999 and if you've read anything about my blog, you know that you can use Createspace and Lightning Source to produce your book for a whole lot cheaper if you're willing to do some of the grunt work yourself. Some of the package prices are downright predatory as far as I'm concerned.

What their CHEAPEST package offers, you can do for yourself, through Createspace and Lightning Source for less than $500-- and really it's less than that. It can probably be done for about $300-$350.

Two things they don't mention on the site are "Returnability" (whether they accept returns) and "Wholesale" discount, how much of a discount they offer. If they don't offer returnability or at least a 40% wholesale discount (really needs to be 50-55%), then your book won't likely get into major retailers. Plus, what are your printing costs? They say they offer a discount for author copies but they don't say how much that discount is.

My advice is to just say no! Do it yourself. It will take a little more work on your part on the front end, but you'll save money on the backend AND you'll put your book in a position to get out to retailers. I can almost promise you it will be very difficult though Balboa press and the like. If you look at the past blogs, you will see many of the reasons I state for maintaining maximum control of your book, ensuring returnability, and having the ability to set your own wholesale rate. These are key issues to self publishing profitably and cheaply.